Friday, January 31, 2014

policy news: New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act

Albio Sires is the U.S. Representative for New Jersey's 8th congressional district, which includes most of northern and
eastern Jersey City, as well as some neighborhoods of Newark. 

On Wednesday he introduced the New Opportunities for Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Financing Act of 2014. 

"Modeled after the successful Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), this bipartisan
legislation will allow communities to take advantage of low-cost financing for projects that make our streets and
sidewalks safer for all users."

Read the official press release here or more here.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Bike Lanes And Vehicular Cycling Are Both Welcome In Princeton

8th Avenue bike lane in New York. Image credit: Stephen Miller.

Princeton Joint Pedestrian and Advisory Committee was pleased to welcome Les Leathem of the League of American Bicyclists to our regular meeting in November of last year. Les encouraged members of the PJPBAC to participate in the League's 'Traffic Skills 101' course. At our meeting in January, several members of the committee agreed to join one of these courses this year, to try to expand our education efforts with cyclists in the Princeton community.

Education efforts to cyclists are particularly important for teaching them how to ride safely in mixed traffic. Many occasional cyclists do not realize that the safest place to be when cycling is often several feet out in the roadway or even right in the middle of the traffic lane. This is clearly set out in this helpful guide from NJ Department of Transportation. This concept of 'vehicular cycling' means cyclists ride as if they are a vehicle, occupying the travel lane. The League of American Bicyclists has a position to "encourage the instruction of vehicular cycling principles and techniques to as large and wide an audience as possible".

Some cycling advocates have advanced the idea that education to promote vehicular cycling is the best way to promote safe cycling, and is a better alternative to adding specific road infrastructure for bicycles. Those of us (like me) who were taught vehicular cycling as kids recognize that it helps to make a dangerous activity- riding in mixed traffic -much safer. It still requires significant confidence to 'take a lane', however, and many car drivers do not like to drive behind a slower moving cyclist. The effectiveness of a cycling policy based on vehicular cycling has been questioned by experts such as John Pucher, Professor of Urban Planning at the Vorhees Transportation Center of Rutgers University. Pucher's studies have consistently revealed that communities that invest in on-street cycle infrastructure see a greater increase in cycling participation, and significantly fewer accidents involving cyclists and cars.This fits with other reviews from the scholarly literature.

Real-life studies in New York have come to the same conclusion: a 35% decrease in traffic crash related injuries was recorded on 8th Street after a cycle track was installed in 2007, and a 58% decrease in casualties occurred on 9th Street after separated cycle infrastructure was added. Retail sales in nearby locally-owned stores also increased by 50% after the cycle improvements were added, even as the city-wide economy stagnated. These observations offer a compelling basis for a holistic approach to cycle planning based not just on education but also on improving our streets so that people perceive cycling to be a safe alternative to driving. Personally, I see cycling on a busy street in mixed traffic as a risky activity similar to whitewater kayaking (another sometime hobby of mine). With appropriate instruction and if you know what you're doing, it can be done safely and can even be fun. But if we are serious about reducing the rate of accidents and making cycling something that everybody can participate in, we need to provide space for cyclists of all abilities to use our roads. 

In Princeton, there does not have to be a conflict between education to promote safe cycling and adding improvements to provide a safer experience for cyclists. Both approaches are necessary, and both are likely to be of benefit to making cycling safer and more pleasant for our residents. PJPBAC will be pursuing both approaches in 2014.

Over to you: Is it a good idea to teach cyclists to ride in the middle of a traffic lane? Where should the balance lie between expanding education and infrastructure? And would you be interested in attending the League of American Bicyclists' 'Traffic Skills 101' course? 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Providing For Bikes Is Of Particular Benefit To The Least-Wealthy Commuters

This amazing chart, based on US Census Transportation Planning Products (find out more here) reveals who uses bikes most for commuting to work. All sections of society ride bikes, but forget the Portlandia stereotypes- the people who use bikes the most for traveling to work are those at the bottom end of the income spectrum. 

The figures indicate that if we are interested in social equity, we should be making sure that cycle commuters have the same equal, safe access to our roads as car drivers do. This is, in fact, a key principle of the 'Complete Streets' policy that Princeton recently adopted. But the chart shows how important it is to make specific improvements for two-wheeled commuters. To do otherwise is to penalize the less-well-off.

What do you think, how do these statistics fit with what you have observed in Princeton?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

the other great debate

Do you realize that the expression "good fences make good neighbors" 
is turning one hundred years old ? Not true at all!

But which side of the fence are you on:  mandatory helmet usage …. or not ?

No, wait. First, we can debate whether the more important debate is about this:

                  "vehicular cycling" versus "investing in bike infrastructure"

I hadn't noticed that the NY Times ran a "Room for Debate" op-ed piece about this
last October. CLICK HERE to view it.  There are 5 debaters, and over 500 comments
all told. One debater is John Forester, the provocative "father of vehicular cycling".

Meanwhile, Ayfer Baykal of Copenhagen says this:

          Our focus as city administrators is not on the bicycle itself. It's on creating the 
          framework for a good life and an attractive city; by happy coincidence, the bicycle 
          is an extremely efficient tool to achieve that. 

Click here or here to read more about the debate. Let us know who wins, okay ?

In 2009, Rutgers' well-known advocate for segregated infrastructure, John Pucher, published
paper which makes for an interesting rebuttal to Forester (or in this case, Bjorn Haake).

I mean, Pucher is readable but his policy ideas like "greatly increased taxes and fees on car
ownership, use, and parking to reflect the high social andenvironmental costs of the car"
make we wonder whether he resides in the state which employs him, The Garden State.

It so happens that I became a vehicular cyclist, for reasons explained in this snippet of
dialog from the movie "Three Kings", where Archie was portrayed by George Clooney:

Archie: What's the most important thing in life?
Troy: Respect.
Archie: Too dependent on other people.
Conrad: What, love?
Archie: A little Disneyland, isn't it?
Chief Elgin: God's will.
Archie: Close.
Troy: What is it then?
Archie: Necessity.
Troy: As in?
Archie: As in "people do what is most necessary to them at any given moment".

When you needed to bike everywhere and it was decades ago, you needed to be a vehicular cyclist.

And bike helmets were still in the future.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mimi on the (Sylvia) Beach

Did you know that the legendary Sylvia Beach, who is buried in
Princeton cemetery, has the same birthday as Einstein ? TRUE !

Did you know that a hotel for book lovers named after Sylvia 
overlooks an actual beach in Oregon ? As true as the day is long !!!

     "Sylvia carried pollen like a bee. She cross-fertilized these writers"

Below is a calendar of some events our PBAC committee is either
participating in, or helping to organize, during the upcoming year.

Saturday, Feb. 8 - The New Jersey Bike & Walk Summit in New Brunswick.

Friday, March 14 - to kick off Pi Day, and to pay homage to a fascinating
                           connection to Einstein's legacy related to this, this and this,
                           we're planning a group ride at CP South. Stay tuned for details.

Sunday, April 28 - Communiversity

Sunday May 4 - Inspired by the New Brunswick Cyclovia last October 6, we
                        envision getting permission to close off a few miles of one
                        of the wider roads on the outskirts of town, for a few hours in
                        the afternoon. We can look forward to a fun, car-free event.

Sunday, October 26  - Second Annual Mayor's Ride of the Falling Leaves


Friday, January 17, 2014

Complete Streets - Herald Square, New York 1910 edition

Interesting image here via The Project For Public Spaces. 'Complete Streets' is one of the biggest issues facing Princeton and PBAC in 2014. Briefly, the idea behind Complete Streets is that roads are designed for all users, regardless of age or background or ability level or chosen mode of transportation. 

Princeton has adopted a Complete Streets policy and it is central to the Circulation Element of the Municipal Masterplan. But the town lacks a Complete Streets Implementation Plan. Developing a Complete Streets Implementation Plan is one of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing bicycle and pedestrian advocates in Princeton in 2014. What form will Complete Streets take in Princeton?

If we look at this picture of New York's Herald Square in 1910, we see something that could be argued to be a form of a 'complete street'. The street is being shared by users of all different modes. Women in hats stride across the street past horse-and buggies (horses-and-buggies?). Clearly the horse-and-buggy was still popular in New York in 1910. In fact some form of horse-and-buggy was the state of the art for in-town transportation from Ancient Rome all the way through to about 1910. But here we see two new forms of transport: the trolleybus and the automobile. The 'horseless carriage' is outnumbered in 1910, but as we know, it soon came to dominate streets and roads all across the country.

It's remarkable how the street is used in a completely different way in 1910. Two gentlemen appear to be stood having a conversation- right in the middle of the road! Clearly they feel no threat from motor vehicles, and such behavior is seen as normal. It would be unthinkable nowadays. It's also worth considering that although there are few cars, this road is carrying a huge number of people. Aside from the throngs of walkers, each trolleybus appears packed with people. One trolleybus can carry the equivalent of 60 single-passenger vehicles, freeing up road space and reducing traffic. This 1910 road is carrying as much if not more traffic than a situation where the road is given over primarily to cars.

Returning to a 1910-style use of our roads is not the objective of Complete Streets, but it's worth remembering that our roads were not always the exclusive domain of cars. Although car use increases freedom for personal transportation, it has also brings challenges to the ability of other users to make safe use of public space.